July 24, 2011

Early Adoption Syndrome

Posted in Learning tagged , at 1:00 pm by kristibroom

Image by shuuki

I like to think of myself as an Early Adopter most of the time. I like to find out about new technologies, and be among the first to try them out. I know I’m not alone in this need. With the rapid rate of new technologies available, and the increased features and functionalities being added to existing tools, there is broad opportunity to fall into what I’ll call Early Adopter Syndrome – that state of need to be among the first to explore…and judge new technologies.

But I’m definitely an Early Adopter Introvert. Aside from technology, I like to think things through individually first. As those who know me well will tell you, my best thinking happens while walking my dog…or in the middle of the night. I guess it’s probably a good thing I’m not an Extrovert with that time schedule.

My approach to learning technology follows the same logic. I am someone who will push every button, explore every menu, and try every option. I just prefer to do that individually. So when new social technologies, like Google+, arrive on the scene, I do like to get in early, but you won’t see early posts from me. I’m more of an “explore behind the scenes, gain some mastery of the tool, and then post” kind of adopter.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this notion of Early Adoption, and some of the benefits and downsides it might have in other areas. None of these are based on research. In fact, none of them are based on thorough observation…just scattered thoughts mostly based on my own experiences and those of people around me.

Benefits of Early Adopter Syndrome

  • Tolerance for change: One of the biggest benefits I have experienced is a sort of expectation that things will change that can transcend technology. So, for example, when changes happen to processes or structures at work, the time to react-deny-accept is much quicker.
  • Tolerance for “bugs”: Back in the day, technology was released when it was thoroughly tested, and all user documentation was in place. Not so today. With the release, evaluate, fix, update cycle, I see a growing acceptance that things may not work perfectly. Again, I think this transcends beyond technology, adding tolerance to life’s imperfections.
  • Opportunity and ability to provide feedback: With the bugs comes the opportunity to provide feedback. Not only is this an opportunity, it creates I think an ability to identify, specifically, what’s not working, and perhaps suggest solutions. “It doesn’t work” doesn’t seem to be heard very frequently.
  • Rapid learning: With rapid change in technology comes the ability to hone our skills in learning quickly. In addition, we also need to find the sources of information, which may not be a thorough user guide – it may be fellow Early Adopters.
  • Contribution to a community of Early Adopters: The follow up to the previous bullet is that, if you are so inclined, you can share your learning with fellow Early Adopters and the larger user community. That feels good.

Downsides of Early Adopter Syndrome

  • Intolerance for change: Tolerance for change is a benefit, but I think its evil sibling – intolerance for change can also appear. I see this when people rage against feature changes that affect their favorite functionality. Or, when people mistake updates for imperfections in previous versions, and signs that the developers must not be competent.
  • Expectation that others are as competent as you: Sometimes I think we forget that we are Early Adopters, and expect other users of the technology to know as much as we do. The need to remember to allow others to adopt at their own rate is important. I recently witnessed one Early Adopter responding rather harshly to another Early Adopter over something that the second person had yet to learn. She felt quite chastised for what was an honest “mistake” – it was something she had not learned in a technology that was new to everyone.
  • Early judgment of a tool based on limited experience: With the rapid release of technology, and the abundance of tools with which to adopt – early or not – I think it’s easy to make judgments of tools on what may be limited experience with them. Remember that many tools are in a “beta” stage, and so their full feature set may not be released – or even known.
  • Need to find the next big thing: Because there is this community of those with Early Adoption Syndrome, the competitive among us may be driven by a need to find the next big thing – to be the first of the first to discover something new. A little competition is healthy. Too much is not.
  • Leaving behind those less adventurous: There will always be those people who fall outside of the Early Adopters. In fact, if Rogers is right, most people will fall outside of it. The ability to communicate, interact and teach those who will fall in those later stages is an important task of Early Adopters. However, if we’ve already moved on, we all lose.

What do you think? What have you observed as an Early Adopter, or as someone who waits until technologies are more stable?

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July 16, 2011

I Learned Something New

Posted in Learning at 5:25 pm by kristibroom

Image by simminch

The other day we were enjoying our time outside, and my son exclaimed “I learned something new!”. He had discovered that, by varying pressure on the nozzle of the garden hose, he can impact the length and width of the stream of water. And, enjoying this new learning, he proceeded to water our lawn. Bonus for us!

As I was thinking about his discovery, and how proud he was that he figured it out himself, I thought about my own experiences of learning something new. Like him, I love to learn, but the most memorable things I’ve learned ten to come after I’ve struggled with something and finally, through trial and many errors, figure it out.

And then I think about training. Whether it’s instructor-led or elearning, our courses are often designed to make things easy to learn. It’s a topic that has been on my mind, especially after reading Julie Dierksen’s post, “Why ‘Clear and Easy to Understand’ can be bad.” In it, she cites the research and studies that explain why challenge aids retention of learning.

I do think there are times for the “clear and easy to understand” type of design. When we “train” to meet a regulatory requirement, I could not appreciate more an easy course that I can breeze through with minimal effort. But when we really want someone to learn, they’ve got to struggle a bit.

I think there is a balance, though. Too much struggle and it seems like all that is all that is remembered. I clearly remember a time when, as a second grader wanting to do well in school, I was challenged to find the right order to a number of statements. After multiple attempts, and after exhausting the patience of my teacher, I remember tears in my eyes as I randomly ordered the items, hoping that magically they’d land in the right order. I still don’t like those types of exercises. In that situation, there was clearly too much struggle.

I see ties into the conversations happening around gaming and gamification, and the desire to allow self-directed learning. All of these will succeed when we allow learners to struggle, to figure things out for themselves, and simply get out of the way. I’m not suggesting that support is not needed — of course it is — but I can say that personally, I feel a greater sense of accomplishment, and I am more likely to remember what I’ve learned, when I’ve had to figure something out on my own.

July 1, 2011

“I’m Bored!”

Posted in Learning tagged at 10:00 am by kristibroom

It is summer vacation for the 3 school-age children in my household. Though we’re all adapting to the newfound freedom they have from a daily schedule, it’s not without challenges. I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve heard “I’m bored!”

I’ve been thinking about this lately. For my kids, it’s not really a lack of potential activities that is causing their “boredom.” In fact, there are many activity choices that they like to do. I think what’s really underlying their complaints is indecision of what to do, because no one is directing their time.

In school, days are controlled by class schedules, teachers, and assignments. They move from one to the next to the next. And surely during each day, there are points when they get “bored” and their minds drift to other things. But the day moves on.

Now think about the way learning has shifted. In the past, training courses looked a lot like our school days: the curriculum was prescribed, and the instructor helped direct learners from one activity to the next. And just like school kids, our learners would drift in and out of rapt attention to the subject matter. Every trained instructor knows of the “deer in the headlights” look, and every good instructor has an abundance of techniques and activities to help remove that look from the learners’ faces.

And then came elearning. And then self-directed learning. And gone were the days of prescriptive scheduling with an instructor to lead us through it. And we’ve started to hear “I’m bored!” In elearning, there is no one to see the look that accompanies boredom, so no quick and easy remedy. After all, if there is a lesson that must be completed, and the learner would like to take a brain break, the “Next” button does still need to be clicked in order to make progress. And if the learner doesn’t do that, who will?

I’m not here to launch an argument on whether elearning is boring. However, I did enjoy this recent blog post from Allen Interactions titled “Declare Your Independence from Boring e-Learning.”

Regardless of whether the content is boring, I think learners, just like my kids, are reacting to the need to direct their own learning, which seems to be a new experience. I think there are a couple of solutions. Certainly, the more we can prevent boring elearning, the better it will be for everyone. I think another solution is to teach people to self-direct their attention. When they are feeling the deer in the headlights look come over them, they *should* get up and take a break, or find some way to divert attention. When they have a question, they *should* have access to a resource who can provide an answer.

Like with my kids, the answer is not hard. And, like with my kids, intervention from someone else is not always necessary to solve the boredom issue. We can provide opportunities to build the skills necessary to learn in an environment where not only is learning not prescribed, but we have many sources of distraction while we are learning. The ability to determine what, when, and in what order we learn is a skill that should start early, but if not, is one we should continue to reinforce in order to create lifelong, excited learners.

June 15, 2011

The Exceptional Coach

Posted in Learning tagged , , at 8:29 am by kristibroom

Like David Kelly, I often look for learning connections in everyday life. This week it happened during baseball.

Both of my sons are in baseball. My oldest, the 13 year old, is playing for his fourth year. We started him late, so he’s spent much of the last 3 years catching up on the fundamentals. This year we’re starting to see him really put it all together to become a real player. My youngest, the 6 year old, is in his second year, though he graduated from tee ball last year, to coach pitch this year. He is full of competitive spirit, and when many of the others on his team are digging in the dirt, he is paying attention to all of the critical details in play.

There are lots of stories and connections, and I’m sure we’ll explore some of them together in future posts. What struck me this week though is the coaching. Both of my sons, with their personalities, skills, and experience with baseball, probably could use some extra coaching. All of the coaches in the program are volunteers, and this year we are fortunate to have 3-4 coaches on each team. We are also fortunate that on each team, one of the coaches really wears the title well.

All of the coaches do what is necessary: they show up to the games and practices, they show the kids the fundamentals of hitting and catching and base running, and they keep track of who’s played which positions and how many hits they’ve made.

The exceptional coaches, though, go beyond that. They take the time to coach, in the moment, when there is maximum relevance. For the 6 year olds, the exceptional coach will see a coachable moment, and will gather the 5 or 6 boys closest to the scenario, and talk them through what happened, what should happen, and what they can do next time. Not all of those moments are when things go wrong – sometimes he gathers them in to congratulate a teammate on a nice play. For the older kids, it’s not much different, though there are generally fewer kids around since they occupy a larger portion of the field. This exceptional coach typically plays the role of 3rd base coach, an ideal role for him to take some individual time with each player, tell them what they did well, and give them a tip or two for next time. It seems so easy, but I often see the person filling that spot just standing by the player, not talking at all. It’s really an unfortunate missed opportunity.

Beyond the obvious connections to coachable moments, maximizing relevance, and giving targeted feedback, I think there is more here. I think about our learners, who, like the rest of our coaches this year, do what is necessary, but no more. How many of us do the same? And then I think about the learners who, like the exceptional coaches, look for opportunities to improve, even if it’s in just a couple brief moments, and take full advantage of them to up their game.

How do we find those brief moments of intense and relevant learning? How do we encourage those who are just getting by to see the value in them? How do we get people to share what they’ve learned in those moments with others?

I would love to hear your stories of moments, or people, like those I’ve described above. Let’s capture what people are doing, and in the process encourage others to find ways to do the same.